The Dastardly Past: Bram Stoker.
April 20, 1912 marked the passing of Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula. The authors of the Stoker article in the Dictionary of Literary Biography said this of him, “Without Dracula, Bram Stoker would be forgotten. As it is, he is one of the least-known authors of one of the best-known books.” Born in Ireland, Abraham Stoker, Jr., was by turns a civil servant, drama critic, actor and theater manager, as well as a writer. His social circle was wide and cultivated (as was Stoker himself). Scholars have attributed his interest in vampires to Hungarian Arminius Vambery, a colorful figure who told wild tales of the vampires of Eastern Europe. Intrigued, Stoker began researching the topic. Four years later he completed his world-famous novel. It has been adapted for stage, screen, radio, and every other conceivable medium. Although somewhat prudish, the circumstances of his marriage led Stoker to seek companionship outside of his home. He died of advanced syphilis at the age of 65.
The Dastardly Past: April 19.
Oklahoma City National Memorial by Carol M. Highsmith’s America, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.
Some days in history are darker than others, and they fall within living memory. April 19th in Waco and then later in Oklahoma City is one of them. One of my intentions with this blog is to never celebrate the perpetrators of dastardly acts. With that in mind, let’s take a moment to instead remember the innocent people impacted by these events—I won’t call them victims; first because nobody wants to wear that label and, second, because in the years since these events, they have overcome and tried to move on. And please also remember the hundreds, if not thousands, of other people who rendered aid, gave comfort, and pursued justice, all while abiding by the rule of law.
The Dastardly Past: the New York Doctor’s Riot.
In April of 1788, a young boy peeps through a window into a dissecting room. The medical student waves a dismembered arm at him and tells him it belonged to the boy’s recently deceased mother. Upon investigation in Trinity Churchyard, the family discovers that the mother’s grave is indeed empty, and public sentiment boils over. In the absence of regulated sources for cadavers, students of “physic,” as it was called then, had necessarily turned to robbing graves for bodies to dissect. As long as the bodies belonged to the poor or to minorities, New Yorkers turned a blind eye. This time an angry mob reacts against the desecration of their loved ones. They march on the hospital and destroy the anatomy room. The incident becomes so heated that it results in a two-day riot. The militia and cavalry finally quell the mob, but not before almost 20 people die.
The Dastardly Past: Robert F. Kennedy & Sirhan Sirhan
Such a lovely spot for such a dastardly act. The Ambassador Hotel. Author’s collection.
On April 17 in 1969, a jury convicted Jordanian immigrant Sirhan Sirhan for the assassination of presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, whose support of Israel he had become obsessed with. Kennedy was gunned down in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. He had just finished a speech and was shaking hands with one of the kitchen staff when the assassin began firing. Kennedy took three shots; in the melee other people were hit but not seriously injured. The busboy, who Kennedy had paused to greet, put his own rosary into Kennedy’s hands, and Kennedy was transported to a hospital where he died the following day. Sirhan Sirhan continues to serve a life sentence in California.
The Dastardly Past: Rebecca (1940)
On April 12, 1940, David O. Selznick Productions released Rebecca, based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier. Alfred Hitchcock directed this, his first American production and the only one of his films to win an Oscar for best picture. David O. Selznick had purchased the rights to the novel in 1938 for $50,000, but had difficulty casting the film. His first choice for Maxim de Winter was Ronald Colman, who refused the part. Selznick next considered William Powell and Laurence Olivier. Olivier came cheaper than Powell by $100,000 and so won the role. Joan Fontaine was one of several actresses, including Margaret Sullavan and Anne Baxter, considered for the part of the second Mrs. De Winter. The best bit of casting did not involve the leads, however. Dame Judith Anderson as the menacing housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, outshone the principals and redefined malevolence. The movie, like Anderson’s performance, remains a classic.
The Dastardly Past: Just Judges.
On April 10, 1934, the lower left panel of the Ghent Altarpiece of St. Bavon’s Cathedral disappears. The altarpiece, known as The Adoration of the Lamb, was painted by Hubert and Jan van Eyck between 1426 and 1432. The stolen panel depicts the Just Judges, and has never been recovered. In 2001 The Daily Telegraph publishes a piece about the theft and ongoing efforts to find the panel.
The Dastardly Past: George Chapman & Jack the Ripper.
On April 7th 1903, British authorities execute Polish murderer George Chapman, who was responsible for the deaths of three women by poison. Some people also consider Chapman a likely contender for the Whitechapel murders perpetrated by Jack the Ripper over a decade previously. Helena Wojtczak explores this possibility in her book, Jack the Ripper at Last? George Chapman, the Southwark Poisoner (2016), available on Amazon.